Reporters are Looking for a Sensational Story - Are You Providing One?

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As OUTRAGE continues to accelerate in today’s society, media are constantly seeking the next sensational story to attract viewers and sell ads.

Though positive media stories serve to benefit your organization, sensational stories are about them – not you. They are about stirring controversy; latching on to social media trends; selling ads.

We know this happens. Turn on any cable news outlet and nearly every headline is another sensational story. Local outlets, while much better than national, also cannot resist a sensational story if you are willing to provide one.

Being caught in a sensational story could result in poor coverage and an inaccurate representation of your organization on a very public level. The story will undoubtedly influence your current and future clients, stakeholders, customers, and executive boards. Frankly, you can do without this headache.

The best way to avoid being the centerpiece of a sensational story by the news media is to evaluate your organization and the ways your leadership and employees are engaging publicly.

Political Alignment

Politics has become so divisive that any alignment – or perceived alignment – with a political interest could damage your reputation. We see this every day.


While schools are apolitical entities, often, School Board members and union leadership can’t help but inject their political interests into education conversations that should remain void of political interests. This reflects upon the school or school district they serve and creates a perception that may or may not be accurate – but is a distraction.

CEOs on Social Media

While the organization may not have any political interests or positions, the people leading the organization may. Moreover, they may feel it necessary to post their personal positions on social media. If somebody in senior leadership posts a political position on social media, it reflects as the default position of the organization.

Chick-fil-A CEO, Dan Cathy, made his opinions on gay marriage public, creating an avalanche of media coverage. Though the comments were his own and not the organization’s, it’s nearly impossible to separate the two when it is the CEO making them. Agree or disagree with his political positions, this is not the attention organizations want. Cathy stepped down as CEO in November 2021.

Politician Engagement

Your organization may be involved in opportunities or events attended by politicians. You may even be hosting them. 

To have politicians participate in an event or initiative hosted by your organization is not a major concern. In many instances, it is highly appropriate. Where your organization could get sideways is if only certain politicians, or those of a single party, receive invitations.

To invite politicians of a single party or position to participate alongside your organization – or even give the perception of partisanship – could fare poorly on your organization. You may become publicly aligned to that politician’s stance on any host of issues – even those where seemingly no link exists.

Stay above those partisan games and invite candidates and representatives from all political affiliations. It is their choice to attend, but you should have the paper trail showing they were invited.

CEO Stakeholder Engagement

What kind of leader do you have in your organization? Are they somebody who remains behind-the-scenes, opting to allow others to be the face of the organization? Or, does your leader have more of an alpha personality and doesn’t shy away from an interview.

How active is your CEO on social media? Do they post regularly or sporadically? Do they handle their own social media or does somebody manage it for them? Do they post personal opinions or stick strictly to professional ones?

Assess your CEO’s level of public exposure for risk mitigation. Even the most apolitical leader may inadvertently post or say something they did not even realize was controversial. 

All of the sudden, the organization unexpectedly finds itself embroiled in controversy and implementing damage-control strategies.

Those leading public relations efforts for your organization must account for this possibility as part of their crisis communication planning.

Aligning Organizational Beliefs to Stakeholders

What are the general beliefs of your stakeholders? Do you even know? It may depend on the work you do and the size of your organization. 

For instance, a religious organization like a church largely understands at least the religious beliefs of their constituents. This may even give them indication of their congregation’s personal beliefs in some instances. An organization that assists hopeful parents with family planning understands the importance of family to their stakeholders. Even a school can develop certain understandings of the political and cultural beliefs of their communities based on their geographic location.

But what about an organization that assists with home mortgages or has a retail store? They may have certain understandings of their customers, but do they understand enough to prevent becoming part of a sensational story?

As much as possible, your public relations professionals should seek to understand stakeholders. This way, you can create insights to prevent upsetting stakeholders by saying or doing the wrong thing, or understanding how to respond if a sensational story should arise.


Most reporters are good people trying to share honest and accurate stories with their audience. However, enough have become vultures constantly seeking the next sensational story from which to feed. Unexpectedly, you may find yourself embroiled in controversy you never saw coming.

Your senior leadership and public relations staff must be prepared and aware when these situations arise. Plan for them and execute your plan as quickly as possible to prevent the spread of damaging information.

The Communications Workshop offers several courses and resources on crisis communications planning.